BLOG YTC_Hollyweird: Episode XIII: The Scowling

 

Follow me on Twitter: @You_Total_Cult.

In the short term, the YTC podcast can currently be found at http://www.chrisandphilpresent.co.uk/blogs/youtotalcult/

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The blog below was under an older name of Hollyweird. I have kept the numbering the same so that I could keep track of my posts, but this is where it all begin back in the heyday of 2012…

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Werewolves- let’s be honest now- are crap. As monsters go they are not so much the dogs bollocks as the cats hernia. The criteria for becoming a werewolf is essentially just to having a bad day. Anyone can become one, you just need to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Even then, your powers are limited to once a month or so. Being an unlucky bugger who is powerless most of the time certainly lacks the drama associated with many other ‘monsters’. For instance, Mr Hyde or the Invisible Man have tragic elements of self-creation. Frankenstein’s Monster struggles against humanity as it develops its own conscience, and is a victim of the world that created it. The Creature From The Black Lagoon is just defending his lifestyle against encroaching humans (NB: The Creature’s victims are idiots. Who would go swimming in a black lagoon???).

In fact the closest horror-archtype to a Werewolf is their distant cousin, the Vampire. Although the criteria for becoming a Vampire is somewhat akin to becoming a Werewolf, ie a being a victim of circumstance, I am reluctant to count vampires as rubbish for two reasons. Firstly, because Vampires normally seem to be enjoy having been changed into creatures of the night, and secondly because they are presented as being pretty darn sexy.

 

Yet, Werewolves are probably my favourite monster for the above reasons. See, I just love underdogs….. (….Sorry….)……. I really do.

I own one of these

 

All of which brings us to this entries film. See, for a famous movie monster- nay a creature famous the world over that is celebrated as different Were-creatures in different cultures across all ages if man- just, why are there so few, decent Werewolf movies??? Given my love of the hairy fellas, I’ve seen a fair few over the years. And it always comes down to the same four stand outs;

The original Universal Studios Wolfman. This is still possibly the most definitive version of a Werewolf committed to screen. But aside from some good performances and nostalgic love, sadly it is pretty dated and dull.

An American Werewolf In London. The immortal benchmark, a sublime comedy-horror.

Dog Soldiers. Coming out of nowhere to establish itself as a low-budget, top notch action-comedy.

Ginger Snaps. Interesting twist on female-werewolves.

Trick ‘R Treat is a fantastic(al) anthology featuring Werewolves, but Sam is the star of that film. Jack Nicholson’s vehicle Wolf is solid, if a bit po-faced and flabby (mainly the film, but also Jack). The Howling is OK it just never reaches the levels of the above films. But by far, the most underrated to my mind is Silver Bullet. This is by no means a great film, but it is, whether intentional or not, good fun. Being ‘fun’ seems to be the key aspect shared by the successful Werewolf films, but completely missed by most failures.

Silver Bullet or Fried Gold??

 

Silver Bullet began life as a Stephen King short story, ‘The Cycle of the Werewolf’. King also wrote the screenplay here so naturally it’s a small town in Maine that is beset by a murderous evil. Soon neighbours turn on one another… yadda, yadda… long story short, only one person thinks a Werewolf may be at large. Not just any person mind you, but a kid. Not just any kid mind you, but a kid in a wheelchair. Not just any wheelchair mind you, but a motorbike-infused one. Oh, and these wheels of steel are called The Silver Bullet. So the set up is an 80’s heartthrob as disabled boy, in a Nitro-powered wheelchair named after a deadly item vs a Werewolf.
Hot. Damn.

 

So then, which great child actor could pull off this thrill-seeking, disabled good guy persona??? Why Corey Haim, naturally.

vs

(… A piece of hairy-rubber..??)

 

Haim plays his role earnestly, which actually adds a strange camp value to the film. It’s fair enough that he would do so, after all his part has to be sympathetic yet heroic. But if he is playing his role a bit too straight, luckily there are the more experienced cast members on hand, and they sure are a scenery chewing bunch of character actors!

 

“hey, baby!”

Get a load of this; Corey’s alcoholic, kind hearted uncle, who helps mod the wheelchair, is played by Gary Busey. Ed the Mechanic from Twin Peaks is a one-eyed priest. Lawrence ’Reservoir Dogs’ Tierny is the local bar owner. John Locke from Lost plays a sheriff and was then young enough to have hair! This film sure would be a lot harder to watch if it wasn’t for these guys supplying the air of the film with a mix of menace, mystery and absurdity.

 

The ‘Silver Bullet’ of the title. Well, one of them at least.

Much like the scenery chompers listed above, Silver Bullet’s soundtrack is overblown. Luckily, the comedic effect of all this makes the film all the more engaging. Scoring to full 80’s rock effect is Jay ‘Manic CopChattaway, who manages to help the ‘scary’ scenes come across more as spoof scenes. [For Copywrite reasons I cannot embed or link to any videos here. but the curious amongst you caould search something like ‘Silver Bullet Wheelchair Chase’ into a video search engine].

The film is clearly a lot of fun, even if you’re laughing at it rather than with it. Though in some ways, the thing about Silver Bullet is how much more interesting it could have been. At one stage it was being directed by a personal favourite auteur of mine, Phantasm and Bubba Ho-Tep’s Don Coscarelli. Sadly Don left the project over concerns about the wolf costume.

… And here’s the econd namesake of the movie.

Even more intriguing, the film was originally supposed to feature cinema’s first talking Werewolf. The producers bottled it, so that was scrapped. Sigh.

Still, when all is said and done, and the wolf-battle is lost and won, Silver Bullet is a breezy watch. Given the output of awful werewolf films- and I’m damn sure looking at you Cursed– I’d happily take lightweight fun ‘wolf flicks over more ponderous ones.

 

SB’s Werewolf actually batters someone to death with a baseball bat. TWICE.

 

Next time will be Anime-time. Hai.

Thanks for reading,

MJ

 

PS

At least Werewolves are finally getting some respect via Cabin In The Woods. (*** SPOILER ALERT***) After the debacle of shape-shifting Twilight crap, I was really pleased to note that the last creature standing, not counting an elder god, was a Werewolf. So the end of humanity is brought down via a fuzzball. Yeah!!!!

BLOG YTC_Hollyweird: Episode XII: Undress For Success

Follow me on Twitter: @You_Total_Cult.

In the short term, the YTC podcast can currently be found at http://www.chrisandphilpresent.co.uk/blogs/youtotalcult/

BLOG PIC

The blog below was under an older name of Hollyweird. I have kept the numbering the same so that I could keep track of my posts, but this is where it all begin back in the heyday of 2012…

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In a world such as ours, it seems a shame that David Thewlis will perhaps be best remembered as a werewolf in the Harry Potter films. Now don’t go getting me wrong, even though I’m not a fan of HP (the sauce or the wizard) I can recognise that some of the later films were good. But if it was my world, Mr Thewlis would be far better known for a part he had that first put him on the map. It was a performance that was very well-regarded in 1993- in fact it won Cannes best performer award that year. But during ‘best performance’ articles or discussions Thewlis’ amazing turn seems strangely neglected ever since. Perhaps that is due to the role’s bleak dissection of humanity at its most self-destructive. Perhaps the ugliness on display is just too…. naked.

 

 

A Thewlis in the bush is worth two in the hand


In 1993 Mike Leigh began to experiment more fully with improvisational film techniques. These techniques have since become refined to a point of association with Leigh. The concept is to only have a very rough outline for a script and to actually base the characters, dialogue and relationships based on extended rehearsal time. The results present very naturalistic films, usually reflecting the struggles/joys of Working Class character’s lives, such as in Secrets & Lies, All or Nothing or Happy Go Lucky

However the start of this period, Naked, is still my personal favourite of Leigh’s films and that is entirely down to Thewlis’ portrayal of ‘Johnny’.

 

 

Oscar The Grouch: The Live Action Movie!


Johnny flees Manchester after an vaguely-consensual affair with a married woman turns to attempted rape, and he fears he will be beaten by her husband. This all happens within the first few seconds of the film, so it is clear from the offset that we although may journey with Johnny, we may never like him or condone his actions.

So why then does the film instantly stick us with this rapist and coward? It is actually quite simple; Because Johnny is in fact one of the most fascinating enigma’s that British film has ever produced.

I don’t actually intend to discuss the plot of the rest of Naked. There is a whole lot that could be analysed about class, Patriarchal society and Cynicism vs Kynicism. (Feel free to Wiki them- how do you think I learned such fancy terminology??). For this piece, the only part relevant here is to look back at Thewlis’ defining performance as Johnny.

So very briefly, just to keep you up to speed (you, yes, you. The one with the eyes). Escaping Manchester, Johnny reaches London. He aims to stay with an ex-girlfriend, Louise. After coldly sleeping with Louise’s house mate and then generally insulting everyone, Johnny is soon turfed out to wander the streets. It is in these moments that we begin to see the self-loathing grandeur of Johnny. As he encounters different parts of the Capital’s underbelly, Johnny expresses all manner of explosive world views. These range depending on whom he is talking to and what he is trying to express.

 

Johnny likes to ponder…

A good example is on debating the nature of humanity with a Security guard. At first there is some simple banter.

 

Johnny: And what is it what goes on in this post-modern gas chamber?

Brian: Nothing. It’s empty.

Johnny: So what is it you guard, then?

Brian: Space.

Johnny: You’re guarding space? That’s stupid, isn’t it? Because someone could break in there and steal all the fuckin’ space and you wouldn’t know it’s gone, would you?

 

This is the playful Johnny. A little cheeky, a little insulting but interacting. But soon the next level comes to the surface,

 

Johnny: Look, if you take the whole of time and represent it by one year, were only in the first few moments of the first of January. There’s a long way to go. Only now were not going to spout extra limbs and wings and fins because evolution itself is evolving. When it comes, the apocalypse itself will be part of the process of that leap of evolution.

Brian: Yeah, well. Whatever happens mankind will not cease to exist

Johnny: We must! By the very definition of apocalypse, mankind must cease to exist, at least in a material form.

Brian: What do you mean, in a material form? Johnny: We will evolve.

Brian: What into? Johnny: We’ll evolve into something that transcends matter, into a species of pure thought. Are you with me?

Brian: Yeah… like a ghost

Johnny: Not like a fucking ghost you big girl’s blouse! Into something that’s well beyond our comprehension. Into a universal consciousness. Into God. Who is by the same principle that time is.

Brian: You don’t believe in God

Johnny: Of course I believe in God

 

Now Johnny is trying to dominate. He is not having a discussion so much as showing his superiority by demolishing Brian’s responses. Within this scene, Johnny is displaying a mix of philosophy, science and religion but all are being tamed by his own concepts. His ego is showing, but then so too are his contradictions.

Where is David Thwelis’ hand to make Ewan Bremner pull that face??

Does Johnny believe in God? And how can if he if he believes that all humanity will one day become God? How can he say humanity will not exist whilst claiming it will go on?

The fact is that this scene shows parts of Johnny’s thinking, but it is via a fun debate. Much darker aspects of his mind come out at other times. Accused of being bored, Johnny snaps back

 

Johnny: Was I bored? No, I wasn’t fuckin’ bored. I’m never bored. That’s the trouble with everybody – you’re all so bored. You’ve had nature explained to you and you’re bored with it, you’ve had the living body explained to you and you’re bored with it, you’ve had the universe explained to you and you’re bored with it, so now you want cheap thrills and, like, plenty of them, and it doesn’t matter how tawdry or vacuous they are as long as it’s new as long as it’s new as long as it flashes and fuckin’ bleeps in forty fuckin’ different colours. So whatever else you can say about me, I’m not fuckin’ bored.

 

Now Johnny is nihilistic. He considers everyone beneath him and has no time for humanity or technology. Not even for questions, despite he himself seeking to question the role of life, the universe and everything. So is he a liar? Or a hypercrite? Or far more likely a multi-faceted character as contradictory as any real person?

The key to making such a mixed up character (and criminal) so watchable is how Thewlis portrays him. Well,somewhere between a Buddha, a psychopath and a bloke on the pull. Thewlis himself has said the he spent month just drinking coffee and smoking and reading- virtually no sleep or food. He wanted to be wired and literate at all times. Here is a moment to show the pay off for that enforced mindset:

 

If all these examples seem relatively tame for a possibly insane/possibly sick character then seeing the film is a whole different thing. Watch Naked and you’ll how brutally he has sex or how he flippantly he reduces the lives of people around him with a simple put down and stare. But it is not just down to Thewlis. Leigh’s direction is really on point in presenting its protagonist in Naked.

One of my favourite moments of the film is an incredibly simple one. Johnny says nothing and barely reacts, but the scene shows how he is at the centre of everything, acting like a black hole of tension. Sadly I cannot find any online footage of this moment, so I’ll briefly explain it.

 

This is from the scene I love

Johnny has been on the streets for an evening, alternating his time with both parties of an arguing couple, played by the always reliable Ewan Bremner and Susan Vidler. In a single shot, Johnny walks on ever forward down an alleyway. The couple screech at one another and move around him. The camera keeps panning with them, and soon circles all of them. This is a brief moment in the film. Yet in just this movement, the utter loneliness and chaos that Johnny breeds is displayed in a single hypnotic movement.

 

This came up when I google-imaged Ewan Bremner. It was my fav of his pics.

 

 

Overall, as someone else succinctly put it during my internet research, Johnny is “Intelligent, educated and eloquent….also deeply embittered and egotistical, fighting and provoking anyone he meets in order to prove his superiority. His behaviour is reckless, self-destructive and at times even sadistic… Like a vile Candide”. To my mind, British cinema could do with a few more characters like this, and a few less ‘whoopsy daisy’ romantic leads. But then again, I suspect Thwelis could pull off those parts too.

 

[NB: A final note I want to put is in case any readers are now curious enough to watch Naked. A major concern that I myself have with this film is its depiction of women. Within it, women flock to both Johnny and another sociopathic character, Jeremy. This is despite their abusive behaviour to females, and sometimes even after it!

Whether this is a form of misogynistic masturbation (something the otherwise excellent Buffalo 66 veers into) or not, I find Naked afascinating watch due to Thewlis’ work. The rest of the film I don’t really care for. So don’t blame me if you hate it!]

 

Next time I’ll be looking for something a bit less intense, like child slavery. Nah, I’ll actually be writing about an overlooked horror film where Gary Busey actually gets to play a good guy!

 

Thanks for reading,

MJ

BLOG YTC_Hollyweird: Episode XI: Toad Be Or Not Toad Be

Follow me on Twitter: @You_Total_Cult.

In the short term, the YTC podcast can currently be found at http://www.chrisandphilpresent.co.uk/blogs/youtotalcult/

BLOG PIC

The blog below was under an older name of Hollyweird. I have kept the numbering the same so that I could keep track of my posts, but this is where it all begin back in the heyday of 2012…

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Back in 1988, wrestler ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper did something amazing. Something ground breaking. Something that to this very day, a whole two decades on, has yet to be equalled. No, he did not win a Wrestling world title, but rather he acted in a film- and he was good. Really good. That movie was John Carpenter’s They Live.

I don’t remember him in Transformers…

 

Oh sure, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson is a charismatic actor of great success, whilst Andre The Giant is certainly lovable in The Princess Bride, and even Hulk Hogan is, um…. present in Mr Nanny. But Roddy Piper is the first wrestler-to-actor to really play a solid part convincingly. In They Live, Piper is understated and believable as a down and out- possibly due to his teenage years living that very life style. Yet he is also swaggering, tough and great at pun-slinging- possibly due to his wrestling career.

So there we are. It’s 1988. Piper has proven to the both world and to the critics alike that he has genuine acting chops. So why didn’t his career take off in movies? Well possibly because of another film released the very same year- Hell Comes To Frogtown.

 

FROM THIS……
….. TO THIS

 

It is a dystopian future (NB: well, aren’t they all? Even the Utopian ones a la Logan’s Run or Metropolis tend to fall apart under scrutiny. Sigh, are we really so doomed?!?!) Anyhoo, it’s a dystopian future. Mutated Amphibians have evolved to form their own society but they despise the remaining humans, the ‘flat lips’ of the world. Humanity’s days seem numbered, not just because of the militant Frogs but also because mankind has been left sterile.

Or has it?

He’s Scot the look

Well no. There remains one man tough enough that no amount of Nuclear radiation could slow him down. This man is Roddy Piper, aka Sam Hell. Now to be fair, Piper’s parents are Scottish, and if anyone is going to be tough enough to shrug off nature, it may well be a Scotsman. Bck to the plot- such as it is- Sam Hell is found to be the last remaining ‘potent’ male. He is captured by the remaining Government, strapped to a bomb and told to seek out kidnapped, fertile woman being held in the dreaded Frogtown. If he can free them, great. If not he is to impregnate them there. And so it begins….

Luckily his Porridge is still all-good, if you know what I mean.

Given that storyline, one has to wonder if this started out as porn version of Escape To NY for Frog-fetishists. But in fact I know the real answer to that and its actually almost as unbelievable. Having sat through the film with Writer and Director commentary I can reveal that Frogtown was written via a stream of consciousness in a few days.

You see the writer, Randall Frakes, was bet by the director, Donald G. Jackson, that Randall wouldn’t be able to write a film in less than a week. Well I guess Frakes sure showed him! Not only did Frakes win the bet, it meant Jackson was left committed to directing it. Sometimes the pen is mightier than the clapper board.

At this stage perhaps you, my dear readers, are expecting me to rag on Hell Comes To Frogtown. It would certainly be easy to do so.

The effects are shocking with the frogs looking about as convincing as someone with some paper machet glued to their head with ‘FROG’ written on it. The lips do sometimes flap but not in synch with the dialogue, so it looks awful.

This Toad looks better than some the extras in costumes

Meanwhile the acting is what you’ may expect from a cast hired to work on a film written for a bet. Piper gives it a fair go, and he’s not actually terrible in this movie. But comparing his ease and subtlety in They Live to his mugging in Frogtown you quickly realise that guiding hand of John Carpenter is very different to the lubed fisting of Donald Jackson.

The other actors actually fare far worse. The lead scientist/sidekick for Sam Hell is played by Sandahl Bergma- or as my mate put it, ”Conan’s bird!”. Sandahl is praised in the commentary for her performance which makes me think she may have slept with the writer and/or the director. In reality she can barely stand still and deliver lines. Oh, and inexplicably former leading man Rory Calhoun crops up as a grizzled prospector. He once worked with Marilyn Monroe, but judging by this flick, his career dies far slower than she did….

 

Lady Gaga makes a cameo

 

But now I’m getting mean, when in truth there is no need for it. My catty comments aside, how can I mock a film called Hell Comes To Frogtown for being a bit rubbish? It stars a wrestler who proclaims he has to “Fuck for America! Fuck for freedom!” and who slices up Frogs with a Samurai sword. Who can expect high art from that?!?

It’s true that this film could actually be a lot more fun if it was better made. Perhaps if a Sam Raimi or Joe Dante had made it, Frogtown could be a genuinely fun experience of anarchic joy. Sadly it’s just a high concept never realised. In fact for the concept alone, if not the execution, it succeeded far more than most completely forgotten action films. And hey, it even led to THREE sequels and a Family Guy episode, Hell Comes to Quahog. So what the (Sam) Hell, it’s got its place in pop culture so let’s leave it be.

 

Now normally I end with the trailer for the film of choice. Not today. Today we’re going for this little number;

 

 

Oh and in closing, for proof that Piper still has it check out his episode of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. It took a long time, but at least he proved not be a one-hit wonder. Go Roddy!

 

Next time I’ll be writing about something. I don’t know what yet as I have a lot of strange films to pick from. But something. Uh-huh.

 

Thanks for reading.

-MJ